UAB ending program man says saved his life

UAB ending program man says saved his life

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - You can overdose the first time you do a drug. It happened to more than 70,000 people in America, according to the most recent numbers from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Fortunately, Greyson von Hagel didn’t.

“I shot it and then I was out. And up woke up some hours later and I vomited a lot,” he said.

That’s the first time Greyson overdosed. It was the first time he took heroin. He was 18, but his story of addiction began years earlier.

Recovering from Addiction Part 1

“When I went to middle school I started to feel a little socially awkward, socially anxious. You know, and that really felt like I was starting to drift away from my groups that I had had," he said. "You know, and that really started to eat away at me until I got to Hoover High, which is huge. And, it was overwhelming for me. Uh, and so I started smoking weed. And I felt like I had arrived.”

Greyson had arrived at an addiction that would take up four years of his life, make him homeless and see him through seven different rehabilitation programs. One of those is the Addiction Recovery Program at UAB.

“The residential overnight program will go away. So, that’s 16 overnight beds that will no longer exist," said Vice President of Clinical Operations at UAB Jordan DeMoss. "Um, our focus will be on the partial hospitalization, which is a Monday through Friday outpatient day program. Patients go home at night.”

Greyson Von Hagel's father took his photo of his son while Greyson was facing heroin addiction. Greyson said his father took the photo because he thought his son was going to die.
Greyson Von Hagel's father took his photo of his son while Greyson was facing heroin addiction. Greyson said his father took the photo because he thought his son was going to die. (Source: WBRC via Greyson Von Hagel)

DeMoss says they lost $1 million a year on the overnight program for the last 20 years, making this change a positive one.

“We have the opportunity to take those resources we’re spending today and expand the addiction care in a different way, in the outpatient setting, by integrating our professionals in the emergency department and in acute care,” DeMoss said.

But Greyson sees otherwise.

“I can honestly say, with 100 percent certainty, had I not been allowed to go back to UAB, that I would not be sitting here today. I’m not even sure I’d be alive," he said. "And so, what’s so concerning to me about the closure of that place is that it deprives other people of potentially having that opportunity. You know, to have real people who have an authentic commitment to saving your life, you know really put their arms out and say, there’s an opportunity for you to get better.”

Research from the National Institute on Drus Abuse says that more than half of people who go through rehab are going to relapse.

“Well, I think there are patients who need a structured program for overnight stay, to keep them in an environment where they’re in a community that’s supportive of their recovery and that they’re taken out of the external environment,” DeMoss said.

Recovering from Addiction Part 2

DeMoss agrees with Von Hagel, who has gone through rehab seven times. But DeMoss says the $20 million lost on the 16 beds in the residential program can be better spent on other programs, which help more of the people the emergency room sees.

“They’ve almost overdosed. They come in quite ill and needing, many times, medical stabilization first before we can even get to the point of treating the addiction,” DeMoss said.

DeMoss says they can have a patient whose body has been so damaged from drugs it’ll take a month just to get them healthy again. That costs up to $1 million, which still doesn’t even touch the issue of addiction.

“But the problem is, in my experience in dealing with people in recovery, they’re disproportionately victims of horrible trauma and abuse," Greyson said. "And they have all of these reasons why they use and substances become the symptom of why they’re using or of their normality, right.”

Greyson says it’s like UAB is only putting a Band-Aid on the real issue. DeMoss says that’s part of the change - offering peer support counseling to those with the addiction. This can be an issue for people who can’t stay overnight and may return to those reasons they started doing drugs. However, stopping drug use before it becomes a problem is key.

"Prevention also in the health care setting, meaning we want to ensure that we’re good stewards of how we use opioids in the health care setting and making sure that we don’t prescribe opioids to patients that may not need them,” DeMoss said.

That prevention is done through UAB’s Opioid Stewardship focus, which is a new addiction fellowship to train more doctors on how to deal with addiction.

To learn more about getting help with drug or alcohol abuse, we’ve included several resources below:

How to find a state-funded rehabilitation center

UAB ED launches opioid overdose program

To learn more about drug abuse, we’ve included several resources below:

National Institute on Drug Abuse Treatment Statistics

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